Roy Dunham gave a lackadaisical swipe to the shiny surface of the bar. He glanced up at the clock, then issued the time-honored warning. “Last call for alcohol.” It was a few minutes short of one o’clock in the morning. Most of the regular crowd had already tipped their last glass or bottle and left. A couple of die-hards were going to wait until the last minute. It had been a slow midweek night. His tips barely made the shift worthwhile.
Oh, well, there’ll be other nights.
He stepped out from behind the bar, starting across to turn off the flashing neon advertising sign and flip the one on the door to read CLOSED. At that moment, the door swung inward. A tall, impressively well-built man in the dark blue uniform of the San Pablo police department entered the bar, a sleek, tawny dog at his left, pointed muzzle even with his knee. Roy stopped in his tracks.
Gawdamighty, that’s the most gorgeous hunk of manhood I’ve ever seen.
The officer could have posed for a recruiting poster for some Viking’s crew, an epitome of Norse masculinity. He wore his sandy-blond hair buzz-cut close to a well-shaped skull. Chiseled features with high cheekbones and an angular jaw set off a pair of brilliant blue eyes. Below that, broad shoulders barely fit through the bar’s front door. His body was a perfect wedge, tapering from those impressive shoulders down to lean flanks and long legs. The man’s military posture set off his uniform, well-fitted navy blue shirt and trousers, glossy black leather belt, holster and other gear, and the shiny bronze badge on his chest.
“Everybody, stay right where you are. My dog located drugs in a car out in the lot. The man who was heading toward it fled when he saw us. I think he came back inside.”
Roy stood his ground. “Nobody’s come in for the past half-hour, officer.” The man might look like a Teutonic god, but his arrogant tone grated. “This is a quiet, orderly place. We don’t tolerate drug dealing, violence, or anything but law-abiding behavior.”
The gas-flame blue eyes flickered to him and as quickly away, in clear dismissal. When the policeman barked a harsh, guttural word, the dog left his side. It began to move around the room in a zigzag pattern, dark nose twitching.
Roy stepped back a couple of paces to edge behind the bar. The dog and the cop both ignored him. After the dog sniffed and then passed the three remaining patrons, the cop gave them a nod. “Get out. It’s closing time, whether you’re done or not.”
For a moment, Roy considered raising a protest, but then he decided it wouldn’t do any good. Besides, the Tavasci Brothers, who owned The Sundown Club and several other bars around San Pablo, didn’t like trouble. They wanted business to be quiet, orderly and completely within the confines of the law. Crossing a cop was not in their standard operating procedures.
Like many families on the fringes of organized crime, Phil and Emil Tavasci operated a number of legitimate businesses, which they kept squeaky clean. They were good employers if you were loyal, reliable, and played by their rules. Roy had known worse over the years, for sure. Knowing that, he tried to do the best job he could. He needed the work, a steady job, while he got back on his feet after leaving the Navy hospital. He relied on his pay to keep a roof over his head and food on the table. It was a point of pride to support himself.
He went back to his evening clean-up routine, keeping an eye on the officer and the dog, but with no particular concern. He felt sure no one had come in recently. The muffled sound from the direction of the storeroom at the rear of the bar caught him by surprise. When he wheeled to face the doorway, he found himself looking into the muzzle of a large caliber pistol, probably a .44 Magnum.
Obeying the stranger’s silent hand signals, Roy edged back until he found himself between the stranger and the cop. Maybe he’ll get distracted in a minute, and I can disarm him. Yeah, right. Me and how many Marines?
That wasn’t much of a hope, but he could hardly argue with a man holding such a businesslike weapon on him.
From their reactions, the officer and his patrol dog both saw the swarthy man at the same instant. The policeman barked another command. The dog froze, staring intently at the intruder, almost quivering with tension as it awaited the command to attack. Stopping midreach in going for his own sidearm, the cop’s gaze riveted to the pistol in the man’s hand. In a heartbeat, the intruder closed on Roy, snaking an arm out to get him in a choke hold.
When Roy bent back slightly to take the pressure off his throat, he felt the cold metal of the pistol barrel resting against his neck. The man steadied his weapon on Roy’s shoulder.
Oh fuck! What do I do now?
Roy had served two enlistments in the U.S. Navy, but he’d been a medic, not a fighting man. The intruder was several inches taller, and as he pressed close behind him, Roy could feel the man had a wiry toughness that hinted at considerable strength. Somebody’s going to get hurt here, and it’s a good chance it may be me.
The dog crouched, tail tip twitching with suppressed energy, his fight drive building to an explosive level. The cop hissed another quick command. The dog leaped. Roy felt the jolt an instant before the fiery heat as gunpowder exploded short inches from his ear. The sound deafened him for a moment. He saw tan fur scatter and scarlet drops spray, but the dog kept coming.
Another shot. This time the policeman stumbled, halted. Within an instant, a dark patch bloomed on the left leg of his navy blue trousers. He steadied himself and drew his gun. At that moment, the dog hit the apex of a running leap. The animal grabbed the man’s gun arm, teeth crunching in a steel-trap snap on the bare, brown forearm. The impact spun both the gunman and Roy around. The pistol went flying as the man screamed. He released Roy an instant later.
Roy staggered a couple of steps, sinking onto the nearest barstool. Sweet Jesus. It’s a wonder I didn’t piss my pants.
Limping, the cop advanced. At another command, the dog released the strange man’s arm, now bleeding profusely. He was clutching at the torn flesh, cursing and whimpering. The policeman fumbled for his handcuffs. He snapped them on the man’s unbitten arm first. Then he hesitated, as if not quite sure what to do next. With a muffled whine, the dog sank to the floor, all fight gone.
When he looked down in surprise at the sound, Roy saw gouts of blood, not just from the bitten man but more, draining from the long furrow along the dog’s left side. Whoa, this pooch just saved my ass and prob’ly the cop’s too. I need to help him.
If there was one thing Roy knew, it was treating gunshot wounds. Been there and done that.
He reached behind the bar and came back with a handful of clean towels. Kneeling on the floor, he pressed two of them in a wad into the dog’s wound to staunch the blood. He wasn’t sure how deep or serious it was, but it was spurting blood. Slowing that flow was the most urgent need. After a moment, he tied three more towels together and bound them around the dog’s body to hold the makeshift compress in place, easing the improvised tie under the animal’s heaving ribs as gently as he could. To his surprise, the dog tolerated his attention, stayed quiet. Roy could almost believe the beast somehow understood it had saved the day and was now going to be saved in turn.
By then, the policeman had handcuffed the suspect to the rail along the edge of the bar, leaving his bleeding arm free. After that, the officer sat down on a nearby stool with a thump. With an expression of disbelief, he stared down at the hole in his dark trousers, at the patch getter bigger and darker still, where blood welled to stain the fabric. Roy could see the shock in the man’s face then, a paleness and tension that dimmed his masculine beauty.
“Hey, you’re shot too.” Roy grabbed some more towels and made a second hasty compress. The wound was high in the other man’s thigh, to the inside. The bullet appeared to have missed the bone, but must have clipped at least one artery because the blood was coming in spurts. Roy jammed the wad of towels against the cop’s leg, bearing down hard.
The officer drew a sharp breath that hissed between his clenched teeth.
“I know, it hurts like hell, but I need to slow the blood. Have you got backup coming?”
The officer nodded. “I called before we came in. They should be here any minute. How’s Samson?”
“My dog. I saw he was hit. Is it bad?”
Roy shrugged. “I’m not sure. I think it just sliced along his side, but it was bleeding too much to see for sure. That’s why I’ve got him bandaged. That should hold until we can get him to a vet. Does the department have one they use?”
“Yeah, I take him to the St. Francis Animal Clinic. They have a vet on duty 24/7.”
Roy tossed one bundle of bloody towels aside and made a fresh compress. The man was weaving in his seat, starting to weaken from loss of blood. Tourniquet—I hate to do that, but better than bleeding to death.
He took his web belt off and bound it around the cop’s thigh, almost into the crotch. He had to get that blood flow cut off fast.
“You’re going to have to go to the ER yourself, you know,” he said, careful to keep his tone conversational. “You’ve lost quite a bit of blood already. I can’t tell the extent of the damage yet. Can you hang on a minute while I call 911?”
At that moment, Roy registered the dying wail of sirens and, in a breath, three other officers came barging through the door en masse. One was a sergeant. He took in the scene with a quick scan and began to issue orders. One of the other cops helped the wounded officer out through the door and into his cruiser. They took off with red lights and siren. Before the sound faded, more lights flashed and a couple of EMTs came in. They took charge of the prisoner, but the second officer went with them. Once they were gone, only Roy and the sergeant remained.
The sergeant turned to Roy. “What happened?”
Roy related the incident as well as he could. “The dog saved us both. I’d be glad to take him to the vet. I can lock up in a minute or two, and my car is right outside the back door. If you can help me move him—I think we can get a big serving tray under him and carry him on that.”
“I’ll take care of Sam,” the sergeant replied. “He’s a big favorite down at the station. Can’t let any more harm come to him than we can help. But I’d appreciate it if you could give me a hand. Are you the one who bandaged him and also Officer Rommel?”
Roy nodded. “I was a medic in the service. I’ve had a little experience dealing with gunshot wounds. After the first shock, the old training kicked in and overcame my panic. I’ve been in the middle of a few good battles, but never quite that close to the action. For about five minutes, I was deaf as a post. The guy shot about two inches from my right ear.”
The sergeant gave him a wry grin. “Let me shake your hand, then. I’m a veteran myself, and I know what you medics went through. Saved a lot of guys’ asses over there in the sandbox. My name’s Sheldon, Len Sheldon.”
Roy took the offered hand. “I’m Roy Dunham, Sergeant Sheldon.”
After that they worked together to slide a large serving tray under the injured dog. Again Roy was amazed by the dog’s calm behavior. He might have been in shock and had to be in pain, but Sam hardly made a whimper. He seemed to realize they were trying to help him. He started to get up once, but Roy put a hand on his neck and pressed him back down. The tray was barely big enough to support the main part of the dog’s body. His head, legs and tail hung off the edges, but it worked. They eased him into the back seat of the sergeant’s cruiser. Roy stood on the sidewalk and watched the car pull away.